5 Problems Which Only Breakthrough Innovation Can Solve (Part 1 of 6)

Making incremental progress does not satisfy the most ambitious leaders. They are the ones who want Quantum Leaps. They are restless, they don’t want to spend another year in maintaining the same Orbit. They want to propel an Orbit-Shift.

But the reality is that, more often than not, these ambitious leaders get frustrated because the Mindsets and Tools that get used in pursuing an Orbit Shifting Challenge are incremental in nature. This frustration is a direct result of pursuing an Orbit-Shifting Challenge with Orbit-Maintaining tools. It is like fighting the next generation war with the old generation tools.

The first question which we urge ambitious Business Leaders to re-examine is

What are the problems or challenges that “business as usual” ways can’t solve? What are the challenges that can only be solved with Breakthrough Innovation?

These are the 5 kinds of challenges that we have come across that need nothing less than the most powerful Breakthrough Innovation Tools. These are the five areas ready for the Breakthrough question:

  1. Not Improve But Transform — When the need is to not merely improve (say by 10–15%) but transform a process, product or business model, the starting point needs to be fundamentally different. When the challenge is to create a step jump then doing more of the same won’t be enough. What is needed is an approach that will not just follow the existing paradigm but challenge it, what is needed is a paradigm shift.
  2. Not linear but Non-linear Growth — What parts of the current growth equation are extremely resource intensive and is a hurdle to future growth? Where has the current business cycle reached a point when the need is to break the traditional Resource to Results equation like ‘Doubling the rate of Growth is going to require Double the resources’. Creating a non-linear growth strategy, will need an approach that will fundamentally challenge the Why, the What and the How of the current growth equation.
  3. Hitting the Wall of Diminishing Returns — Where is your business hitting the Wall of Diminishing Returns? In other words, what are the business critical areas where more and more efforts are only producing incremental returns? What are those areas where a lot of time and effort has been invested but which yields only marginal gains? This symptom of diminishing returns is a clear indicator that investing more time and effort in the same direction won’t help. What is needed is a radically different approach.
  4. Differentiating a Commodity — This question usually comes up when a new leader comes in and refuses to accept that a commodity cannot be differentiated. Finding a way to differentiate a commodity beyond price will need a series of Breakthrough questions in customer and channel engagement — it needs Breakthrough Innovation.
  5. Turnaround a Derailing Problem — Derailing problems usually strike when a radical change in the regulatory or competitive landscape occurs. The difference between the firms which thrive or the firms which struggle to survive lies in how an organisation chooses to respond. Faced with such derailing problems, most leaders get preoccupied in finding a fix that will prevents a negative fallout, a fix that will minimise the damage. But when a leader has chosen to not merely fix the problem but to turn it around into an Opportunity — then the approach needed must be radically different.

When faced with one of these five Business Challenges, merely asking people to “Think out of the Box” won’t be enough. A deliberate and rigorous application of Breakthrough Innovation will be needed.

The subsequent parts of this article would discuss examples in each of these Breakthrough Challenges and how Breakthrough Innovation was applied to find that transformational solution.



Author: Rajiv Narang
Rajiv founded Erehwon in 1989 and he has over the last 25+ years led it to becoming one of the world’s leading Innovation Consulting firms. He has led a diverse and rich portfolio of strategic innovation & leadership initiatives with organisations across industries, cultures and countries including Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, Max New York Life, Novartis, Unilever, IFF, Infosys, Wipro, ESPN etc. Recognised as an Innovation Thought Leader, Rajiv was part of National Planning Commission panel to recommend ‘India’s Innovation Strategy’, and the lead architect of the ‘Innovation for India’ Foundation. He is the co-author of a book based on Erehwon’s unique methodology — Orbit Shifting Innovation — The Dynamics of Ideas That Create History

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